We are learning the consequences of free speech in social media

How ironic, indeed, that social media, the technology retarding the progress of accountability, is the same vehicle that taught an enduring lesson on the subject last week: Everything you tweet is public and doesn't go away.

And now in the wake of the racist tweets sent to black hockey player Joel Ward and black hockey analyst Anson Carter last week, we learn the consequences:

Two Eastern Connecticut State University students who sent tweets to Carter using racial epithets didn't merely apologize to Carter. They've become infamous on their own campus, according to Ken Bedini, the school's Vice President of Student Affairs, who said earlier this week the students were being "beaten up" in the figurative sense.

In Danvers, Mass., a 17-year-old who also sent racist tweets after Ward and the Washington Capitals eliminated the Bruins was fired from his job at a local sandwich shop, the Danvers Patch reported.

"Please (be) rest assured that the racist comments made (by) a former employee do not reflect the beliefs of the rest of my employees or myself," the sandwich shop's owner stated on their Facebook account, according to Patch. "I have fired the individual and he is no longer associated with our sandwich shop."

One word to summarize such developments: bravo.

Maybe this is Step One toward educating our society that free speech, as one reader suggests, includes the words "you're fired."

And now that technology enables institutions ? colleges and employers alike ? to "Google" potential students and employees for background checks, what you post and what you tweet follows you like the blanket behind Linus. So it becomes the job of parents first, second and third to educate their children.

Ideally, it should begin with intolerance for intolerance. Beyond that, however, kids must be taught that they are what they post, before they become 17-year-old high school kids no longer able to ask customers, "mustard or mayo?"

Vegas would make it a pick 'em as to which of the soapbox spielers would invoke George Orwell first. Maybe it's what author Jonathan Franzen calls the "academic Marxist crowd," otherwise known as the liberals. Or perhaps it's the poor, persecuted conservatives who don't like Big Brother monitoring "free speech."

It's hard to tell with any of them anymore. They're all for "free speech" when it supports their agendas and all for frying the infidels when they go too far.

But that's where they all don't get it. The aforementioned college students at Eastern are as "free" today as they were the second before they enlightened us with their views on race relations. Same goes for the young man in Danvers. But there's a difference between freedom and consequence. You get to say what you want in this country without the threat of being jailed. Free speech's purview, however, cannot protect you from the consequences.

I spoke to a friend at UConn last week who mentioned how this has become a burgeoning issue within college athletic departments, too. A college athlete represents his or her institution publicly. Hence, his or her tweets aren't necessarily personal views.

Right or wrong, they will be linked with the institution. That's one of the reasons UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma doesn't allow tweeting during the season.

I'd make the argument that extends to all college students, athletes or not. They have an obligation beyond their own self-interests and to think the consequences through. I can't imagine Eastern officials were terribly proud of the press coverage last week. And while it's unfair to suggest that Eastern is full of racists, a couple of dolts can begin tarnishing a good name with one tweet.

Which brings us to the original point. Watch what you say and watch what you post. Twitter and Facebook are public forums. Someone can always find your musings. All it takes is one misstep now to change everything.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

Hide Comments

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments